April 9, 2024
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April 9, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

On a recent crisp October Sunday morning before the break of dawn, parents and students of Yeshivat Noam’s fourth grade gathered along the banks of the Palisade Cliffs for a remarkable minyan. Nature provided the walls of our beit knesset: the brilliant orange and yellow foliage of the cliffs on one side, while on the other side, gulls and geese wheeled and soared above the surface of the deep blue Hudson River.

The idea behind the ‘Sunrise Minyan‘ belonged to Rabbi Yaakov Nadler, Yeshivat Noam’s fourth grade rebbe, who, while teaching the Mishna of Brachot, found a creative way to make the davening times relevant to my nine year-old’s grade.

Introducing Mishna to children can present its challenges, and when the subject drifts into differentiating between terms like netz hachama (sunrise), alot hashachar (dawn), and how much light is necessary to recognize one’s friend within four cubits…well, it’s not hard for me to imagine how a child’s attention might occasionally wander.

For a nine year-old boy, there’s no better way to challenge boredom than by introducing a flashlight. In the countdown leading up to the big day, my son made sure to check in with me several times to ensure that our flashlight had working batteries, that we had the proper directions to the cliffs and that he would indeed be having doughnuts.

We began davening at 7:00 am, a group of bleary-eyed parents, together with our excited kids, huddled together on a dock by the water in the early morning darkness. I noticed that I was not the only father wrapping my talit around myself as a blanket to keep warm.

As davening progressed and the sun rapidly began to break over the horizon and rise above the Hudson River and warm us all, Rabbi Nadler repeatedly called attention to its changing position and applied the appropriate terms for the zmanim. And just like that, 2000 year-old terms suddenly sprang to life and became exciting and relevant.

When this beautiful minyan concluded, the students immediately scrambled for the hot chocolate and doughnuts that had been laid out for them while most of us parents fueled ourselves with coffee and marveled at the experience. The program continued as Rabbi Nadler led all of us on a short hike through the Palisades.

As a parent, I was moved by several aspects of this experience: how a teacher creatively devised a way to transform the mundane into meaningful; how this same teacher selflessly shared his precious personal time with his students and their parents; and how Yeshivat Noam has fostered a climate that welcomes this kind of creative approach to experiential learning.

Too rare are the moments in which parents and children can enjoy a shared moment of joy in a Jewish educational setting. Rabbi Yaakov Nadler’s Sunrise Minyan provided us with just such an experience that is also an unforgettable memory.

Etzion Neuer is a proud parent of four Yeshivat Noam students.

By Etzion Neuer

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